Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers - Into The Great Wide Open

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers played in the Saddledome on August 19th. Between this and Arcade Fire being in town literally one week earlier and X-Fest at the end of the month, it has been a pretty good month for music in Calgary.

Everyone knows Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have a lot of good songs, but it really sinks in when you see them live and fifteen of the songs they play are classics where I knew every word, and the new songs they played were really quite good. Musicians like Tom Petty have a true workman’s approach to their music. They write good music consistently, tour frequently and during their live performances there is a no nonsense approach, they play through many songs and perform them flawlessly. The focus for many modern musicians is on theatrics, whereas bands like The Heartbreakers, a live concert is about the music they can perform. I appreciate the honesty and reality of, you know, actual music.

The nature of the Music In Review as I have constructed it, is that I typically try to select one song to write about as to really dig deep into the cultural, historical, emotional, or artistic qualities of that piece, but sometimes it is very difficult to pinpoint one individual song to talk about. As stated a moment ago Tom Petty has so many equally good songs, that no one in particularly really stands out, at least to me. However during the concert on the nineteenth Mr. Petty said a few things before playing “Into the Great Wide Open,” that really made me think.

The first thing he said was “this song came out in 1991” to which the crowd cheered and Petty responded with a chuckle and said “I’m glad that was such a good year for you.” Honestly? 1991 was not a good year for me. Granted I was only eight years old back then, but I do not remember that year all together fondly, at least not musically. Maybe I was too young to appreciate some of good music at that time, or maybe I just was not exposed to it, but for the most part I remember the entire decade of the nineties as being a low point in musical creativity. Having said all that, at least we had Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers making great music at that time.

Next Petty went on to talk about living in California and how everyday he would see some new kid arrive off a bus with a guitar and how so many came but so few made it. This meant something to me. Like most young boys with long hair I had dreams of being a rock star, but things did not play out that way. I have always taken cool comfort in being a fan and not an artist, for the world always needs more fans then artists, and in a much less significant and direct way I am doing my part for cultural growth of our shared civilization, but still it stings, somewhere deep down, knowing I am one of the many who will not make it, at least not that way.

It can be weird how personal songs can be, and weirder still what sort of ideas surface depending on our personality. “Into The Great Wide Open” like so many Tom Petty songs is about the good feelings of good music, and the general narrative this time around is about a young couple realizing their dreams as they wander forward in life and musical rock stardom. It is a happy song, as it is a song about the kid with a guitar who does make it, one of the few in question, but the mere mention of those thousands that fail made me reflect differently about the song then I had previously. The dream is over for me, more or less, but not entirely, there is still a glimmer of hope that something else I have invested a great amount of artistic effort towards might eventually come to promise, and maybe then one day I will fall into the great wide open, or whatever that might mean for me. When I, or anyone else, think like this, the song sort of becomes our own, as though a small part of us is present somewhere within the song itself. Following that logic there is very big piece of Mr. Petty within “Into The Great Wide Open,” and whatever I feel is only a fraction of what he represents.

It must be nice being a rock star.

I wonder how much of “Into The Great Wide Open” is autobiographical to Petty, or perhaps one of the Heartbreakers. The story is generic enough to be about just about anybody, and therein lays the classic charm of art; just about everyone can relate too, or desire to be like, the kid in “Into The Great Wide Open.”

I don’t know I’m just rambling.

I wanted to say something special about Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers but there is little to add to what everyone already knows. They are a very good band that writes consistently good music, and have been doing so for an impressively long time. They are honest, down to earth, and relatable. They put on a good show in Calgary and I am glad I saw it. I have no new insights to offer, only my respect.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Friday, August 15, 2014

Arcade Fire - Supersymmerty

On August 12, 2014, Arcade Fire came to Calgary. I have been a fan of Arcade Fire since the beginning but this was the first time I was able to see them live. Last time Arcade Fire was in town I missed them because I was already committed to seeing Black Label Society that night, and I am one of the very few people on earth who is a fan of both of those bands. This time around there was no metal concert scheduling conflict.

In October of last year (2013) Arcade Fire released their fourth studio album “Reflektor” a two disc experiment that, like every other Arcade Fire album, is hard to describe. A major reason I love Arcade Fire is that they are always inventing new ways to create new music. When I say “Reflektor” is like every other Arcade Fire album in that it is hard to describe I mean that in a very thorough and complete way, The common characteristic of every Arcade Fire album thus far has been that each one was a brave new musically approach, and with that in mind “Reflektor” does not sound like any previous Arcade Fire album. Basically Arcade Fire is so unique they don’t even sound like Arcade Fire.

The Mirror Man
The August 12th concert was part of the “Reflektor” tour. The show opened with a man wearing a full suite of mirrors including a hat and mask and everything, he walked to the centre of the open crowd and announced “Calgary! Arcade Fire!” He later appeared in the same spot and danced in small circles during the song “Afterlife” at least I think that was the song playing, either way his presence was a tripped out visual. Arcade Fire has become known for their pranks and gags, like pretending to be Daft Punk. This time around they used the icon of their giant papier-mâché heads from the “Reflektor” music video on two occasions during the live concert. Once to have a fake opening with five people pretending to be them by wearing the fake heads and then being interrupted by the real Arcade Fire, and then again later by having the same imposters play a recording of Loverboy’s “Working For The Weekend” which they again promptly interrupted with the much needed encore.

But the real fun, at least for me, was the wild storm of interchangeable roles everyone in the band has. Win the leader of the group sings primary vocals, most of the time, plays lead guitar, and sometimes plays keyboard. Regina sings background vocals, sometimes lead vocals, plays the keyboard and drums, and the accordion at one point. William, Win’s younger brother, plays the keyboard and bass guitar as well as backing vocals. Sarah plays the violin, keyboards and backing vocals. Richard kept swapping between drums, bass and keyboards, and of course backing vocals. Tim was consistently on the bass, but not always. There were three other guys I am unable to figure out the names of and they too were all over the stage. It was an impressive sight, seeing the band members of Arcade Fire transition between songs from one discipline to another and made all the more impressive how multitalented all of them are. A true artistic musical experience, I am the richer for having witnessed it.

This is the “Reflektor” tour and it was expected we would primarily hear songs from that album, but naturally Arcade Fire performed some of their most popular tracks from previous albums like “Rebellion (Lies),” “No Cars Go,” and “Sprawl II,” you know these songs;

I love the first three Arcade Fire albums a lot, and if I had to rank the Arcade Fire discography I would place the newest one “Reflektor” last, but that does not mean that “Reflektor” is not a worthwhile album. As stated early it is yet another completely new adventure by Arcade Fire and a lot special moments have come from it.

David Bowie guest sang on their first single off of “Reflektor” the self titled track of the same name. This is also the music video where they broke out the giant papier-mâché heads, which have become fairly iconic. 

The second track off the album is “We Exists” a song about trans-people, because you know, they do in fact exist. The list of songs in support of, or defensive of, trans-persons is few, so Arcade Fire has done something kind of noble for writing a song reflective of their condition. It is a very clever approach too, a simple acknowledge about the mere existence of someone can have something of an avalanche affect in the minds of the otherwise complacent.

We Exists

Also, what better way to show humor, humility, and showcase your new songs than by having a multi-part music video/movie? Including cameos by the likes of Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis and others, who mostly show up just to insult Arcade Fire; charming.

Mini Movie/Music Video

But my favorite tune on the new album is “Supersymmetry.” Now woe is me because they did not play “Supersymmetry” at the concert, but that is okay, presumably I will be live. “Supersymmerty” is a very electronic song whose bass is composed of multiple keyboards and soft drums, and the melody is mostly violins and gentle guitar chords. It is very soothing and relaxing. I initially thought the song was about sound coming together, because that is what the song is. There is lot of different sounds coming together in many Arcade Fire songs and “Supersymmerty” is a very strong example, so I believed the idea of the fictional term “Supersymmerty” was about harmony of sounds melting together into a soup for the soul, and I guess I am sort of right, no matter how you feel about it, because that is the song structure of “Supersymmerty” in a nutshell.

Scarlet Johansson's perfect
face is not on the cover because
she is only a voice in the moive.
“Supersymmetry” was included on the soundtrack for the Spike Jonze movie “Her.” “Her” was a daring film, it stars Joaquin Phoenix and his impressive mustache, and the plot is he falls in love with the artificial intelligence that serves as the operating system to his personal computer, voiced by Scarlet Johansson. It is a strange movie because nothing you think is going to happen happens. Anyway once I saw “Her” and “Supersymmerty” played I thought to myself that the lyrics were a little to perfectly appropriate for the film, and I was forced to consider the possibility that the song was written specifically for the movie “Her,” which according to Spike Jonze is the case:

It is not as though my initial interpretation in contradicted by this discovery, rather I feel it enriches my take away message of systems working in symmetry. The unorthodox love story in “Her” is about connecting with people and technological systems in emotional ways and that too could be thought of as “Supersymmerty.” A massive number of carefully crafted sounds coming together to form a great song, that’s “Supersymmerty.” Yeah I like it; it can be as deep as you want it to be.

I could muse on about Arcade Fire and “Supersymmerty” for a long while but I believe I have said enough. Your homework assignment is to listen to “Reflektor” and watch the movie “Her” and then think about things for a long time, because that is what I did, and I enjoyed it.

- King of Braves

Giant papier-mâché heads